Insights into Editorial: A rude wake-up call

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Insights into Editorial: A rude wake-up call


 

Context:

Recently, Several Opposition members signed a draft impeachment motion against Chief Justice of India (CJI).

The draft impeachment motion has charged the CJI with conflict of interest in a case and also abusing his administrative authority as the master of roster to arbitrarily assign important politically sensitive cases to select judges to achieve a predetermined outcome.

What is the process of impeachment of a SC judge?

Article 124 of the Constitution envisages the establishment of the Supreme Court of India and the appointment of judges. Further, in Article 124(4), the guidelines surrounding the Impeachment of Judges are enshrined.

The Constitution has provided similar impeachment proceedings for Judges of both the Supreme Court and High Court. 

Along with the provisions in Constitution, the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968 and the Judges (Inquiry) Rules, 1969 provide for the entire process of Impeachment.

An impeachment motion should be signed by at least 50 MPs if it is moved in the Rajya Sabha and 100 if moved in the Lok Sabha which is then looked into by the Speaker/Chairman. 

After that, a three member committee is formed by them to look into the charges framed against the Judge in question.

At the end of the fact-finding by the committee it submits a report with the recommendations.

If the committee recommends that the judge be impeached, the house of the Parliament will vote on the same.

If a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that house present and voting (Special Majority) votes in favour then the motion of impeachment shall be placed before the President for his assent.

Should there be some safeguards before the motion is admitted?

An independent judiciary is the foundation on which the rule of law rests and a fearless judge is the bedrock of an independent judiciary.

Public interest litigations; the right of a charge sheeted person to contest elections; election petitions; electoral disqualifications, validity of government policies; criminal prosecutions of political leaders; challenges to anti-defection law disqualifications are some of the important matters upon which a judge has to decide on his/her official capacity.

Fixity of tenure and removal only by impeachment are guarantees for independence.

But a mere admission of an impeachment motion for political reasons can cause a loss of reputation that needs to be primarily addressed.

Moreover, till the proceedings conclude, the functioning of the judge concerned comes under a cloud.

While a corrupt judge should be impeached without doubt, it must be ensured that the large body of independent judges is protected and they are not inhibited and shackled while going about their work with any possible threat of an impeachment.

 The basis on which the Impeachment procedure is questioned

One view is that the principle of independence of the judiciary on which the Second Judges Case was founded for the aspect of appointment should apply with full vigour to the initiation of the removal process.

On matters of criminal prosecution of a sitting judge, the Veeraswami case has recognised a methodology of screening.

The Judges (Inquiry) Act expressly provides that the presiding officers, before admitting a motion for impeachment, will consult such persons as they deem fit.

Why can’t CJI impeachment answer all problems in judiciary?

The CJI is the ‘master of roster’. The CJI has the authority to constitute the benches but under constitutional system every power is coupled with certain responsibilities.

The power is required to be exercised for the purpose of achieving public good.

The major problem like mounting vacancies and pendency of cases is reaching alarming proportions need to be addressed first. The faith of the people in the judiciary should not be lost.

If the judiciary is perceived as weak, more and more impeachment proposals would do the rounds. The message should go from the top. That will also rejuvenate the high courts and give the judges their much-needed confidence.

In the eyes of the international community, the executive government also will be shown in a bad light if the judiciary in the country is not independent and strong.

There will be fear and insecurity. The rule of law will be a far cry. All this will deliver a serious blow to the economy.